Avoiding and Reporting Common Scams and Fraud Schemes

International students in the U.S. are often the targets of sophisticated scams and fraud schemes.

Scammers commonly use intimidation and the threat of immigration penalties to extort large sums of money from international students. Scammers often claim to be from a government or law enforcement agency, and sometimes use personal information gained illegally to convince a student that an immediate payment is required. Students who are new to the U.S., unfamiliar with English language, or unsure of how to respond, may be especially vulnerable to these attempts.

Threatening Phone Calls and Intimidating Social Media Messages

U.S. Department of Homeland Security alerts international students to take precautions. If you receive threatening phone calls or intimidating messages on social media, especially one from someone claiming to be a government official, DHS suggests:

  • Do not give any personal or financial information
  • Review your social media profiles and remove contact information
  • Try to collect contact information from the caller
  • End the conversation immediately if threats and intimidation persist
  • Contact your university – BU Police at 617-353-2121
  • Contact the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line

Phishing Scams

BU Information Security advises Boston University students on how to protect yourself from email scams and phishing schemes. “Phishing” scams target personal and financial information (such as passwords, credit card numbers, bank account information, and Social Security numbers) via malicious electronic links on websites or email.

For safety tips see:

Housing Scams

Students arriving in Boston from abroad may be vulnerable to predatory housing scams, including fraudulent housing postings, renters who require large rental deposits in advance, and unexpected increases in fees. We would advise you to search for housing with reputable realtors, and to use caution if you are searching for rooms or housing on classified ads or websites such as craigslist.com

For further information on common housing fraud schemes, as well as tenant/renters rights, see:

Social Security Scams and Identify Theft

Another type of fraud is identify theft, which occurs commonly by gaining illegal access to a person’s Social Security number. See the following resources below prepared by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS):

Direct Email Contact from Government Agencies

Be cautious of any direct email and phone communication from someone claiming a government agent. Keep in mind:

  • Government agents will never ask for immediate payment of a fee by phone. (Beware of this common scam!)
  • Contact the BU Police or ISSO immediately if you receive a government inquiry that is suspicious.

Be aware, however, that there are a few times when you may receive legitimate communication from a government agency, including:

  • Notice of SEVIS Fee Nonpayment
  • Notice of I-515A Admission
    • F-1 students or J-1 exchange visitors who present incomplete documentation to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, may be granted a 30-day admission to the U.S. with a Form I-515A. In this case, the student or exchange visitor may receive a follow up email from US DHS outline instructions for resolving status and extending the 30-day admission.

  • Invitation to use SEVP Portal
  • Communication from the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program
    • J-1 Exchange Visitors in the U.S. may receive direct email communication from the U.S. Department of State Exchange Visitor Program highlighting exchange initiatives and opportunities for J-1 program alumni to participate in events. These emails should be sent to the email address reflected in your SEVIS record (usually your BU email).

If you receive another type of email from someone claiming to be a government source, feel free to contact ISSO to ask whether the email appears to be legitimate.

Reporting a Scam

For additional information on how to spot and report common scams, see:

We urge BU students to be vigilant about these risks and to take precautions in sharing any personal or financial information with any suspicious source.

Additional Resources

Please refer to the links below for helpful resources on protecting your identity and information.